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Ingram, Tuthill Strike Similar Tones On Need For Education Equity, Problematic School Grades

A man in a brown suit speaks at a podium. In back of him is a colorful wall.

Fed Ingram is President of the state’s largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association. Doug Tuthill is President of the biggest corporate tax scholarship program, Step Up For Students. For people usually on different sides of education policy, both are deeply invested in promoting equity in public education. But what does equity look like?  

"We don’t want equality. We want equity. We want to make sure everyone starts at the same starting line, so they have the opportunity to finish when they finish that race," says Fed Ingram, President of the Florida Education Association. He draws a distinction between equity and equality, arguing they're not the same thing. 

"If I had a kid who was born on the South Side of town, and their family has generational poverty…setbacks and obstacles…then I have a student who was born into wealth and understood the value of education and higher ed…I want to make sure both these kids have what they need when they enter the public school doors.”

The question of equity versus equality is one Step Up for Students President Doug Tuthill has given a lot of thought to as a school choice proponent. “Most middle class families, they can play sports, after school arts programs, summer camps, etc. Low-income kids don’t have any of those opportunities," he says.

"It’s not rational to think that schools are capable of dealing with generational poverty," he says. "You cannot expect teachers working with kids six hours a day, 180 days a year, to deal with all the inequities that are in society that kids are having to deal with.”

Both men want to bring parity to education. They both say the state hasn’t gotten serious about addressing equity in its schools, and Ingram believes state lawmakers are to blame.   

“Right now, they’re telling you the school in your community, in this zip code, isn't good enough. Go out to this school. "Ingram says that's telling families and communities they're not good enough. "When you grade a school an 'F' you not only grade that school an 'F' you community, every family, every business, because what business or healthcare person wants to put their business in the center of an 'F' community?”

And, speaking last year at the Chicago Ideas Festival, Tuthill echoed that sentiment. He discussed why he sent his son to the only “F” school in St. Petersburg.

A man raises his hands as he talks on stage
Credit Chicago Ideas / YouTube
Doug Tuthill, President of Step Up For Students, speaks at the Chicago Ideas festival in 2018

“For my particular child, it was an “A” school," Tuthill said. "For a lot of kids, it was a failing school. We have to get out of the notion of one-size fits all…those things are all off-topic. Question is, how to do we put great educators in every school?how do we support those educators, and how do we put great educators in every school…and how do we match that child with the learning environment that best fits their needs?”

Ingram's solution: raise teacher pay, and invest in traditional public schools.

“It’s still the cornerstone of our democracy," he says. "What do with the kids who can’t go to a charter school or pay for a private school? The only way we can scale up is by our private schools.”

And as a former teacher’s union official, Tuthill even floats the idea of union membership for charter and private school educators. He wants to give families greater ownership of their schools by giving them money.

“Our hope is eventually to turn all our programs into these educational scholarship accounts. The way it works is, Money goes into an account for the family… It’s well-regulated…they have the flexibility to spend money not just on school opportunities, but on after-school programs that more affluent families have access to.”

That money, that power, has been at the center of Florida’s fight over public education for the past twenty years.